A team from the World Bank began a 10-day mission on Monday to assess the progress in implementing the new Generating Growth Opportunities and Productivity for Women Enterprises (GROW) project. The project aims to increase access to entrepreneurial services that empower female entrepreneurs to expand their enterprises in targeted locations, including host and refugee districts. It is a government initiative funded by the World Bank with a $217 million grant.
The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) leads the implementation, with the Private Sector Foundation Uganda as an implementing entity. The Bank’s team is led by Ms. Margarita Puerto Gomez, a Senior Social Development Specialist who also serves as the Task Team Leader for the GROW Project. The team includes Mr. Samuel Clark, a Senior Social Development Specialist based in Nairobi, Kenya, and Ms. Fatima Naqvi, a Senior Social Protection Specialist. They are accompanied by a delegation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation from Seattle, USA. The meeting was also attended by Mr. Stephen Asiimwe, CEO of PSFU, and Ms. Ruth Buyizika Kasolo, the Deputy Project Coordinator.
During the entry meeting held at the Ministry headquarters in Kampala, Mr. Aggrey David Kibenge, the Permanent Secretary, commended the team for their support from the project’s design to the approval stage. He revealed that the delegation would hold various engagements for each sub-component of the project to assess the implementation status. Kibenge emphasized the importance of diligence and commitment from all stakeholders to meet the strict timelines because the project was declared effective in January of this year, will close on December 31, 2027, and is non-extendable.
On her part, Ms. Margarita Puerto Gomez, a Senior Social Development Specialist who is also the Task Team Leader for the GROW Project, assured the government of the Bank’s support and that the World Bank team is available to help the Ministry accelerate project implementation, including addressing challenges related to procurements, disbursements, as well as fund absorption, among others. In his presentation, the Project Coordinator, Mr. Alex Asiimwe, who also serves as the Commissioner of Labour, Industrial Relations, and Productivity, identified the milestones and challenges.
He informed the meeting that to achieve the project’s development objective, a wrap-around approach is being used to address the myriad challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in Uganda. A package of integrated services is being provided to individuals or groups of women entrepreneurs. Alex reported on the progress of access to trade/sector-specific skills where a call for Expression of Interest (EoI) for Window 1 & 2 was issued with a due date of September 6, 2023. On the core business entrepreneurship course for micro and small enterprises, he said that MUBS was developing the curriculum to enable the Ministry to engage training firms to train women entrepreneurs.
Regarding the eagerly anticipated grant support for micro-enterprises through business competitions, Mr. Asiimwe revealed that the engagement of women entrepreneurs had been initiated, the grants manual as a disbursement condition was being finalized, and the competition would start before the end of this year. For the sub-component aimed at facilitating access to credit for enterprise growth, the Commissioner reported that consultative meetings and an assessment study had been conducted with financial institutions to inform the operational manual and loan product.
A Call for Expression of Interest for Participating Financial Institutions was issued and closed on September 1, 2023. The process of licensing the lending institution had progressed, with guidance from the Uganda Microfinance Regulatory Authority (UMRA) on the use of the PSFU catalytic fund. Under the sub-component focused on establishing multi-purpose service and production facilities to boost women’s enterprise productivity, Mr. Asiimwe said that mapping of existing multi-purpose Common User Facilities in the country under phase one had been completed, and phase two would be finished by September 2023 to pave the way for the design and upgrading of the facilities.
Mr. Asiimwe enumerated that the GROW Steering Committee and the Technical Committee were constituted and held their first meetings on August 14, 2023, and August 22, 2023, respectively. He noted that key next steps and timelines had been established to accelerate the project’s implementation.
This marks the second Implementation Support Mission (ISM) by the Bank for the GROW Project, with the first one having been conducted in January 2023.